THE UNIVERSE WAS ROOTING FOR me that week.
Dean had stopped being a pussy-ass motherfucker and decided to help me out. He not only threw a party complete with dozens of people who spotted me, in the unlikely event that Jo was going to explore prosecuting me for what happened to the mansion, but he actually took the LeBlancs to get furniture and go grocery shopping. It was with mixed feelings that I’d watched his interaction with Charlene, because the fucker was charming and she actually liked him. I could see it in the way she looked at him that she wished her daughter had stayed with him. She was going to have to get used to me.
Josephine was not on the premises when her house burst into flames. I’d asked a guy I knew to drive by on his Harley, with a ski mask, and throw a firebomb near the garage. He did.
Two hundred thousand dollars, it cost me.
But the Spencer mansion was gone. Wiped from the face of the earth. The scars on the blackened, muddy ground were the only proof that it had ever truly existed.
The next morning, my stepmother sent me a formal text informing me that she was moving to Maui. I texted back that she should leave her inheritance where I could fucking see it because she wasn’t going anywhere, hell included, with my money.
She didn’t reply, but the message was clear. I’d won. She’d lost. At life. At death. At everything that’d mattered.
It wasn’t easy to get back to New York in time for the gallery showing. I had to bribe someone who flew coach to sell me his ticket. I paid double the price, but I made it to the exhibition. And when I got to the gallery, unsure of what I was going to say to her, she did all the work for me.
She’d painted me.
Not only did she paint me (and arguably gave me a better nose than the one I was born with), but it was also what I was doing in the painting that made me smile like a sleaze ball. I was holding a joint and laughing into a non-existent camera—though my eyes were still mine, kind of sad and dark and fucking scary—and I wore a simple black T-shirt that said “Black” in white. The background was stark, stupid pink.
I was her black.
And she was my pink.
I bought the painting in a heartbeat, dragging her boss aside. Gay, thank fuck. He was there with his boyfriend, Roi. By that time, I noticed Emilia was standing next to my image, talking about it with a woman, and I hoped I wasn’t too late to buy it myself.
Emilia didn’t know it yet, but she was going to paint another painting, of herself wearing a pink shirt against a black background, and I was going to hang it next to mine.
The next day, I arrived at the gallery promptly at noon. She was standing in the doorway in a blue and white sailor dress and orange pumps, waiting for me with a smile. It looked so simple. Her, on this spring day, giving me what I wanted so easily. It didn’t look so easy while we were in high school. But I could see now that Trent had been right the night I’d found out she was dating Dean. I dragged everyone into a lot of dark shit because I couldn’t admit to myself this one, simple fact.
All I wanted was for her to be mine, but I kept thinking—believing—that I wasn’t enough. That something so broken couldn’t possibly deserve someone so whole.
I maintained my pace from the coffee shop where I’d been waiting, taking my time to appreciate the fact that she was waiting for me at the other end of the block. She lost her patience and sauntered in my direction, barely containing the grin on her face. When we were inches from each other, we both stopped. I wanted to kiss her, but it wasn’t time yet. So I tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and swallowed.
We took a taxi. It was spring. It was gorgeous. The only good thing about New York City, other than the fact that Emilia LeBlanc lived here, was what I was about to show her.
“Where are we going?” She munched on her bottom lip.
“Ice skating,” I deadpanned. “Then I want to get a giant tattoo of an asshole on my forehead because it symbolizes me.”
She laughed that throaty laugh that made my cock twitch. “I can draw something out for you,” she said with a wink.
“I’d like that.”
The cab stopped on the edge of Central Park West, and we hopped out. I didn’t bring anything with me but my story. Nothing for a picnic. Not even a fucking blanket to sit on. I hoped it was enough. Emilia flashed me a Mona Lisa smile that widened into a full beam when I grabbed her hand and led her to the blossoming cherry tree near the little bridge. The tree was in full bloom. It was especially beautiful, just like her, and she stood and watched it in silence.
I’d rehearsed this moment yesterday just before I got to the gallery. Tracked my steps to make sure I knew exactly where the tree was located, and made sure it was actually blooming. Central Park was huge, and I didn’t want to mess it up. No more messing up with this woman.
She turned to face me. “Cherry blossoms?”
I shrugged. “I guess I can see what the fuss is all about.”
We sat under the tree.
The notion of telling someone everything, even her, was crippling. The lawyer in me wanted to drag me by the collar away from this. But the lawyer in me was dead near Emilia LeBlanc. Fucking her against my office door had pretty much proven so.
She looked at me expectantly before blurting out, “Listen, you don’t need to explain yourself to me. You are who you are. I knew who Vicious Spencer was before I’d decided to work for you. Knew you’d pursue me. Knew you would ask me for things I might have a problem doing. And you were right, we weren’t exclusive. As much as it hurt, you had every right to sleep with Georgia—”
“You think I slept with Georgia?” I cut her off incredulously, frowning. “I didn’t touch her. I tried. Trust me, I did. But she wasn’t you. And I know you don’t expect me to give you answers, but I’m going to do it anyway because there’s a small part of me that thinks that maybe, just maybe, you’ll give me a chance afterward.”
But there was a bigger part that suspected she was going to call the police and hand me over. Still, I had to do this.
Silence fell between us. My eyes landed on the grass as I spoke. It was easier that way.
“After my mom got injured in that car accident when I was a kid, everything changed. My parents’ marriage was never the greatest from what I can remember, but it was after Mom became disabled when we stopped being a family. No more dinners together. No more vacations. He barely even spent time with us anymore. Drowned himself in work. When I was nine, my dad finally decided to leave my mother for Josephine. They were having an affair, but he couldn’t divorce the poor crippled wife, right? So Jo convinced him to send a man to make her go away. The man was Jo’s brother, Daryl Ryker.”
Emilia gasped, and she took my hand in hers.
I continued. “I overheard my dad’s conversation with Jo—back then she was his secretary, and because I was nine, I wasn’t sure what it meant. I let it slide. Then a few weeks later, I came home from school in the middle of the day because I was sick. Saw Daryl leaving my mom’s bedroom in a hurry. She died that day, and Josephine and my dad got married a year later.” The words tasted bitter in my mouth. I still hadn’t gotten over the fact he hated me so fucking much that he’d left me with practically nothing.
“After what happened to Mom, it felt almost evil to be happy. And Daryl…he eventually became a fixture in our home. Like an old, tattered, ugly-as-hell piece of furniture you wanted to get rid of. He was a drunk, and sometimes a junkie—cocaine was his weakness—and he was sadistic as fuck. I was young and broken, and it was easy to drag me to the library and beat the shit out of me and cut me. I had no one to complain to. They’d murdered the only person who loved me.”
“Jesus,” I heard Emilia mutter as she sniffed loudly and clutched my hand in a death grip. Her eyes were already welling up. “This is horrible, Vic.”
So am I, I thought.
“I thought about turning to the police and telling them about the whole thing, but by that point, I knew it was me against the world. Besides, it became personal. I knew what I was going to do. I had a plan. But as I moved toward it, I guess I became hardened. Too hard to notice everything that was beautiful and soft around me.”
Enter Emilia LeBlanc. I knew what was going to leave my mouth next and I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t a terrible mistake. Emilia wasn’t my girlfriend. She wasn’t even technically my friend. And I was going to admit something to her, knowing I was putting my balls in her hands, hoping she wouldn’t squeeze them to death.
“There was a game to be played, and I played it well. When you and I saw each other for the first time, Daryl had already stopped showing up at my house. He was coked-up again, and my dad had told Jo to take his keys away. Anyway, he hadn’t abused me in a few years. I was big by then. Maybe six two, six three, and a baller. He was just a frail junkie who was losing hair, but he thought he could still intimidate me. When I found you outside the library, I thought you’d heard too much, and the worst part was, when I looked at you, all I saw was Jo. You had her lips and her hair, her eyes, and her posture. It made me want to hate you.”
Emilia wiped her silent tears with the back of her hand and nestled her head in the crook of my shoulder. I let her. I took a deep breath of the fresh air, closing my eyes. I was going to do it.
“After you left Todos Santos, everything got worse. We were no longer in high school, and I was no longer a king. No one to play Defy with anymore, which made my frustration with the world simmer. Especially toward my stepmom and her brother. I wanted to kill Ryler. To fucking end him. I showed up at his house. I didn’t even have to kick the door in. He was in the backyard in his hot tub, relaxing, his eyes shut.”
I told her how I killed him. How I strode nonchalantly toward him, sat on the edge of his hot tub and dropped his phone, which was on the wooden deck, into the water.
The autopsy said Daryl drowned to death in a drug-induced stupor. It was an airtight story. It was also the right one. He had drowned…but I gave him the drugs to put him out.
After I was done, I stilled, not even daring to inhale my next dose of oxygen.
She didn’t stand up and walk away.
She didn’t scream at me.
She didn’t make a sound.
She just tensed next to my body and brushed her hand along my arm, prompting me to continue. I released the breath I was holding in my lungs and did just that.
“Then it was time to deal with Josephine and Dad. The gold-digger deserved to lose what she’d schemed so hard to have. The fact that my dad got sick took care of most of it. My plan for simple. My dad worked himself to death to create a business legacy. All I wanted was to confront him before he died. Let him know I knew all along about my mom and that I was going to get rid of what he’d built, starting with the mansion I hated. ”
“You burned down the house,” she finished gently.
I nodded, my chin digging into her temple. I felt lighter, somehow. I hoped it wasn’t going to bite me in the ass the next time Emilia and I went against each other, which was bound to happen, because that was the way we operated. She jerked her head from my chest and stared at me. And I let her. Because I had nothing to hide anymore.
“You did so many horrible things to avenge your mama,” she whispered. A tear escaped her right eye.
I nodded. I’d have said I was sorry, but that would’ve been a lie she didn’t deserve hearing.
“And you’re telling me this because…?”
“Because I trust you. Because I want to know if there’s still a chance you can know who I am, who I really am, and still…” Don’t say love me, don’t say love me, don’t say love me. “Be with me.”
“I want to be with you,” she confirmed without hesitation, and fuck, it just got a whole lot warmer. “I know that they damaged you, and I still want you. I don’t even want to fix you. I just want you as you are. Broken. Misunderstood. Jerk. I want the real version, the dark version, the one who made me the saddest I’ve ever been in my life, but also the happiest.”
Now was the time.
I pressed my lips against hers, and they were warm, and they were right, and they were mine. We kissed under the cherry blossom tree until I felt our lips were seconds from cracking before she pulled away, blinking at me. I got up and offered her my hand.
She took it.
She fucking took it.
Knowing what I’d done, she was still there. What’s more, she was still strong. That was the true beauty about this girl. She never cowered. She always stood tall and thought for herself, knowing what was right and what was wrong in her universe. Always.
That’s what Pink said all those years ago. That we weren’t above the law, but not beneath it either.
There were people around us. Cycling and setting up picnics, taking pictures, and walking their dogs. The place was buzzing with life, but I had just finished talking to her about the death I’d caused. I knew she still had a question in mind, so I waited, allowing her to voice it.
“What are you going to do about Josephine?” Her eyes jerked to me, and I smiled.
“I’m going to punish her where it hurts. I’m going to take her money.”
It was pretty amazing how fast six months could pass. I was in no position to talk shit about Dean because he stayed true to his word, sticking to LA and even helping Emilia’s parents settle in while I was courting their daughter.
Yes, that’s right, courting.
I had no idea how we went from fucking in my office in every position known to man to me holding her bag while I escorted her from the subway to her shitty apartment every night, but it happened. I asked her if she wanted to move in with me, along with Rosie, back to their old apartment in Manhattan, the one I occupied now. I had more than enough space for the three of us, but after she said no, I never brought the subject up again.
We were going to do things her way. I got it. Her way sucked, but I needed to start learning how to play other people’s games if I ever wanted something meaningful.
We didn’t explicitly say out loud that we were dating, but we certainly weren’t fucking, and still, we saw each other every day. It went without saying that our weekends were booked, and we spent them together. Rosie tagged along more often than I would have liked, but I bit the bullet. We went to museums and to the movies. We took walks and even went to Coney Island once. Rosie brought a date along when that happened—a greasy guy named Hal—so I had a few hours to smuggle Emilia behind a building and make out with her until she had concrete burns all over her back from when I grinded against her.
Rosie kept teasing me about the Hamptons, asking what kind of rich person I was if I didn’t have a house there, until finally I caved and rented a place for the weekend, but not before I ran the idea past Emilia’s baby sister and told her that if she was not bringing Hal along, I’d be dumping her sorry ass on the road on the way to the beach house I’d leased.
The week before the beach trip, we visited the cherry blossom tree again. The flowers had long died by then, which was kind of depressing to think about, I guess. Worse, spring was almost over, and I knew I was running out of time.
That night we finally got into bed again, and it was nothing like our first times.
Rosie needed the apartment in the Bronx because her boyfriend was sleeping over at theirs. A perfect opportunity for me. I asked Emilia if she wanted to sleep at my place and she said yes. I didn’t arrange a fancy candlelit dinner or get her flowers because that would’ve been lying, and I promised myself I wasn’t gonna lie to her. But I did order us some Vietnamese from that place she liked and bought some booze. She came over after work and kicked off her high heels—lemon yellow with green dots—muttering something about how she was five seconds from caving and pairing sneakers with dresses like the rest of the female lawyers and accountants of NYC.
I grinned and poured her a glass of wine. I was already in my jeans and T-shirt. “Mmm, women in suits and sneakers. The antidote to an erection.”
She laughed and threw one of the heels at me playfully, purposely missing me by a few feet. I cocked an eyebrow, striding over to her and handing her one of the full glasses of wine.
“You’re aggressive lately. Must be all that sexual tension.” Without giving her the option for a comeback, I turned around and started opening takeout boxes, fixing us our plates.
She took a sip of the wine and I felt her eyes on my body. “How are you sleeping these days, Vic?” Her tone was sweet and seductive.
“Like a fucking baby. Thanks for asking.”
I’d somehow managed to snag some more planned sleep recently, mainly because I no longer had to worry about everything. Jo was my only loose end, and I was going to deal with her soon enough. Everything else was running smoothly. I slept every other night, which was huge progress. I don’t know how it’d happened. Maybe it was the fact that I had someone by my side now.
She tilted her head slightly and stared at me almost dreamily, and I loved her for it.
Shit. I did.
She untangled my fingers from my glass of wine and placed it on the kitchen island as she linked her arms around my neck, and that’s when I realized that all this time, all this fucking time I was chasing her, I was actually loving her.
I loved her when I hated her.
And I loved her when I didn’t want anything to do with her.
I was so crazy about her, the lines had blurred together. Feelings were mixed, emotions twisted together.
I was stealing her pens and pencils, when actually, I was desperate for her words.
All of them. Every letter and syllable. Every silly doodle.
It was clear to me then, in a generic white kitchen I didn’t particularly like, in a city I hated, in an apartment I was supposed to vacate in three weeks’ time, that I was in love.
A love that was worn and old, but still burning.
“Ask me what I want again,” I said softly, and she grinned, pressing her lips to my chest through my tee.
“What do you want?” she murmured. Her hair smelled fantastic. Like flowers and how my fucking pillow was going to smell tonight.
“Nothing. I’m done wanting things. I have everything I need now. Ask me how I feel.”
“How do you feel?”
“In love.” I breathed hard, burying my face in her hair. “I feel in love, and it’s you that I love. So fucking much.”
We didn’t eat our dinner. Instead, I carried her to my new bed, one that Dean had never slept in, and placed her on the mattress, on her stomach, watching her heart-shaped naked ass, and all that purple hair fanning her back and my pillows. I leaned forward, kissing her tattoo and dipping my hand between her legs, running a finger over her slit. She shivered in pleasure, but waited, motionless.
I purposely waited this time. Waited for it to feel right. To show her this wasn’t a fling.
I licked my way slowly from her neck to her tailbone, where I stopped and propped her ass up by raising her knees. She was on all fours now, twisting her head behind her shoulder to see what I was doing. I stole a desperate kiss and guided her face so she was facing the headboard again.
“Don’t you trust me?”
“I’m just starting to.” She laughed breathlessly, and I sank my fingers into her again, feeling her grow wetter.
I borrowed some of that heat and swirled it around her nub, my finger pads stroking smoothly, and felt her pussy rubbing into my hand desperately. I placed one hand on the small of her back, nailing her down.
“You’re always so bossy,” she moaned, but complied. This time I didn’t forget to put on a condom. Hell, this time I didn’t forget anything. Slowly, I sank into her from behind while still working her clit. It felt good to be inside her again, but it felt even better to know that this time, it meant something.
At first, I went in slow. Desperately slow. Teasing her. Frustrating her purposely.
“Vicious,” she begged, her head falling to the pillow as she let out a sigh. “Please.”
“Please don’t torture me.”
I picked up speed inside her, still not giving it to her the way she wanted it. Emilia liked to be pounded. She liked it rough and angry. Which is why we were so compatible in the first place.
“I think you like to be tortured.” I leaned forward, whispering into her ear. “I think you always liked it. Very much.”
The first wave of pleasure slammed into her, and her knees and elbows gave in. She collapsed, lying on the bed now, but I still pumped into her hard, my fingers still working her clit. I was relentless. And after depriving myself of her for so long, I had good reason to be.
“Up,” I instructed. My voice held its usual cold tone.
“I don’t think I can.” She sounded just about ready to pass out.
I tugged her up so her back met my torso, cupping one of her bouncy breasts as I fucked her from behind, brushing her nipple with my thumb over and over, rubbing it in circles while sucking on her tattoo.
“Do you know how you feel?” I growled into her neck. I was going to come any second now. I knew it, and some orgasms, you knew it was same old, same old. But this one? It felt like a first. A once-in-a-few-years epic peak.
“Good?” she asked.
“That too.” I smirked into her hot, sweaty flesh, licking it to taste her again. I was riding her so hard I knew she burned everywhere, but it was for me, so I didn’t care.
I used one of my hands to support her while playing with her tits, and the other to grab her knee and spread her leg to the side for better access, then pounded harder. She yelled louder. Everything between us throbbed.
“You feel like redemption. And do you know what that’s like?”
I flipped her over, but I was still at it, and she was shaking with what might’ve been her third orgasm.
“No. Tell me.”
I came inside her hard, feeling my release inside her warm, tight pussy.
“It’s perfection, like you.”
I fucked Emilia so hard my back looked like I’d fought a fucking grizzly bear by the time we were done.
When we collapsed back on bed, she rolled over on top of me and whimpered, “I love you.”
“I know,” I said. Because I did. Because who else would ever put up with my bullshit if they didn’t love me?
“It scares me,” she added.
“Don’t let it. I promise I’ll protect you from anything. Even from myself.”
An hour later, I was already dragging her out to the balcony—hey, it was a hot day outside, almost summer—sitting her naked ass on the dining set and pushing her legs wide with my shoulders. I ran my tongue along her slit teasingly, hardening in my briefs again. I slid my hand between her legs and pinched her clit. It was good to feel her flesh against mine again. And at least now I knew that the vacation I had booked in the Hamptons would be a fuck-fest
“People can see us,” she told me, and not for the first time. She was right, of course. We were on the twentieth floor, but so was pretty much the rest of Manhattan.
“Fuck ’em,” I said, eating her out, filling her with my tongue and fingers at the same time.
She cried my name, and I loved it on her lips so much, I nearly burst. Her mouth hung open for the rest of the time as I plunged into her with my tongue. After she came once more, I stood up and lowered her body so she was flat against the table and fucked her raw, the dining set dancing under her ass, until we both found our releases.
When we ate our cold dinner at the dining table inside, I decided I was going to use my new trait of being honest and just give it to her straight.
“I sold ten percent of my shares in Fiscal Heights Holdings to Dean in exchange for six months in New York.”
Silverware clattered on the table and silence filled the air.
I continued. “That was back in January. I have three more weeks before I need to pack a bag and move back to Los Angeles. I’m not going to ask you for shit, because I know you have your life here and that you love your job, but…I’m just letting you know.”
Her eyes shot up, and she choked on her dim sum. They glittered with different emotions, which I was still too much of a dick to recognize. But I was fairly sure she wasn’t pissed off at me this time.
“Three weeks?” she repeated.
I nodded, solemn. “I can try and sell ten percent more of my shares, but there’s no way Trent and Jaime will let that happen. It’ll put their asses at risk, too.”
She drank more wine, probably to buy herself some time. After polishing the whole glass, she winced. “Thanks for telling me.”
I didn’t know what I was expecting. Actually, I did. I expected her to say that her job could go fuck itself, she was moving with me.
But then, why would she give up on her career just so I could chase mine?
“Sure. Are you gonna eat that last dim sum?” I pointed my chopsticks to her plate. She shook her head, suddenly looking sad. I picked it up and stuck it in my mouth, chewing so I wouldn’t have to talk anymore. “Good stuff.”